Women are the “forgotten” of the Belgian prison system, although their share as a proportion of the prison population is at its highest. Figures taken from January 1st, 2017, show a total of 439 women behind bars (4.33% of the prison population). The findings emerge from the most recent report of the International Observatory for Prisons (IOP) – Belgian section, which La Libre and La Dernière Heure are echoing on Wednesday.
The report flags up that women in prison often have less access to work, leisure or activities. Neither do they enjoy some means of detention offered to men such as so-called semi-detention (days outdoors and nights in prison). They are accommodated within separate wings of eight institutions for men. Only the Brussels prison, Berkendael, is exclusively given over to women prisoners.
Prisoners who are pregnant face significant difficulties, as pregnancy is rarely taken into consideration and some have to share a cell with a smoker. During childbirth, no family member is permitted to be present. The father is informed of the baby’s arrival by telephone or letter. After the birth, children are able to be left in the care of their mother up to the age of three years.
In January 2017, ten babies were staying in a cell fitted out as a nursery with their mother in Belgium. Berkendael prison (in Brussels) has two bedrooms thus fitted out, but five infants were within the facilities at the same time in 2017. Ordinary cells have therefore been temporarily equipped to accommmodate the care of children.